Sea Scallops are Sweet and Meaty:
Sea scallops, done well, stand among the great pleasures of the seafood world. They are meaty yet yielding, clean-tasting and uncommonly sweet. Most cooks treat them simply, with a good sear on the outside, almost raw at the center.
What we most commonly eat is not the whole scallop, however. Unlike oysters, mussels and clams, we typically only eat the scallop's giant central muscle; sometimes we eat the roe as well.
All bivalves have a muscle that lets the critter open and close its shell. Most molluscs don't move around much, so the muscle isn't large. Not so with scallops.
Scallops swim. They use their muscle to dance around in the water to escape predators. I used to chase them as a boy.
From an eating standpoint, you want to cook a scallop like a steak: A seared crust on the outside, rare to raw in the center. Overcook a scallop and it will bear a striking resemblance to chicken breast -- but at 10 times the cost.
Sea scallops are also excellent sliced thinly against the grain and served raw in an Italian crudo, or marinated in citrus juice like a ceviche.
You could put them into soups, but it seems a shame for such a fine morsel. Smoking them and grilling them is another good option, but you will need a fine grate on your grill to prevent the scallops from sticking or falling through.
Another bright spot about sea scallops is that, for the most part, they are sustainable. The Monterey Bay Aquarium ranks the sea scallop as a "good choice," and there appears to be similar consensus on its Pacific cousin, the weathervane scallop.
Buy sea scallops from Alaska, Canada or New England; these are the most sustainable stocks. Oddly enough, New England scallops are doing so well because Atlantic cod are not -- cod eat scallops.
A Word on 'Diver' Scallops: This should mean that the scallop was caught by hand by a scuba diver. It typically doesn't. A 'diver' scallop normally means the meat was not treated with chemicals to keep it moist. This is a good thing, but that scallop was probably dredged, which is the worst thing about scallops. Dredging damages the ocean floor.
When you locate sea scallops, find out where they come from, then ask if they are 'dry-packed' or wet-packed. "Wet" scallops are often treated with chemical moisture-retaining agents and preservatives. I avoid them.
One more note: Scallops freeze very well, so don't be scared about buying them pre-frozen. They are a far better alternative to "fresh" wet-packed scallops.